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Borna Radnik: Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Sunday, April 28th, at 10 am Pacific Time



Hegel’s Philosophy of Right has been regarded as one of the most important works in modern political philosophy. While the ever-persistent criticism that Hegel’s treatise is an endorsement of the Prussian state is no longer credible, the opposite interpretation that the Philosophy of Right makes normative and prescriptive claims contradicts Hegel’s own declaration that philosophy always comes too late and therefore does not provide instruction for society. So how are we to read Hegel’s work? This presentation argues that the self-reflexive and irreducible features of Hegel’s political philosophy form a reciprocal relationship that is intrinsic to his conception of social and political freedom. By examining his concepts of “free will” (der freie Wille), “right” (das Recht), “ethical life” (die Sittlichkeit), “the state” (der Staat), and “world history” (Weltgeschichte), we will see that insofar as they are external and particular shapes of the universal and eternal absolute idea, they express their historicity since they are shapes of the idea freedom in its historical process of actualization. The irreducible historicity of Hegel’s idea freedom as a social and political actuality is evident in how the owl of Minerva metaphor from the Philosophy of Right expresses philosophy’s temporal retroactivity. Hegel claims that philosophy is the comprehension of its historical present in thoughts (PR, 21). The owl of Minerva is a metaphor for philosophy’s belated arrival in historical time because philosophy always comes “too late” to issue political prescriptions and “only appears” when actuality has “gone through its formative process attained its completed state” (PR, 23). Philosophy comprehends its historical present moment when “a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated” (PR, 23). In this sense, we see that the owl of Minerva metaphor captures the logic of how philosophy retroactively posits the inner necessity of the absolute idea’s actualization in historical time.


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